” Of all the emotions, injustice is most closely associated with “the righteous anger that puts fire in the belly and iron in the soul” ” (Gamson as cited in Jasper, 1997)
The other day in a discussion on mobilisation we discussed the power of emotion. We were asked if we had a mobilising moment – a picture, a conversation, something we witnessed, a video perhaps that made us act.
It’s years since I watched this video. Watching it today, in December 2014, brings tears to my eyes.
The original video (here with subtitles) was posted online in the run up to January 25th, 2011 in Egypt. Tunisia had just deposed their president Ben Ali after 26 year old Mohamed Bouazzi set himself on fire and subsequently died after police confiscated his vegetable cart, sparking nationwide riots.
In a tragic attempt to force change in Egypt, a number of Egyptians tried to set themselves on fire near parliament. When one of them died, Asmaa Mahfouz made this video imploring people to go protest on January 25th, the day that would become known as the beginning of the Egyptian revolution.
It was an important mobilising call for people, like myself, who were thinking of going but were uncertain. Her video is an example of what Jasper describes in The Emotions of Protest as a ‘Moral Shock’ – “often the first step towards recruitment into social movements occur when an unexpected event or piece of information raises such a sense of outrage in a person that she becomes inclined toward political action, whether or not she has acquaintances in the movement”.
The video is nothing more than Mahfouz looking directly into the camera, addressing the viewer. Her voice is laced with passion. And anger at recent injustices as well as long standing ones. And she inspires these emotions in us too. She shames us, the viewers, for sitting at home and complaining on facebook instead of standing up for our rights. She says that she is going down, and if we don’t we are putting her in danger. She makes us feel responsible, she even guilts us as men for sitting idly by while women like her put themselves in danger. But she also gives us hope by saying that we really can make a difference if we believe.
And she was right.